HOUSTON - The tens of thousands of Central Americans who have crossed over the border in south Texas seeking asylum over the past year left their homelands to escape poverty and violence. But they also have been drawn to the United States by the idea that they would be allowed to stay. Even though many of them, in fact, face deportation after their expensive, difficult and dangerous journey, they say they had no choice but to try.
A man, who calls himself Eddy, fled his hometown in Guatemala with his three-year-old daughter in fear for their lives.
“There is a lot of crime, drug trafficking and kidnapping of children. The drug traffickers have a lot of power,” he said.
The same fear drove Alma Ciro and her two children from their home in crime-plagued Honduras.
“It is an ugly situation. There is crime, a lot of unemployment because there are few employers, and there are men who chase the girls leaving school. This happened to my daughter,” she said.
Her daughter made it home, Ciro said, but some girls have been abducted, abused and murdered.
Alma Ciro said it took her more than a month to travel through Mexico to the U.S. border, often hungry and subjected to harassment from those who prey on immigrants.
“They take money from people. It is always about money. They take the little money people have with them,” she said.
Coming up from Guatemala through Mexico, Eddy said so many people demanded money that he arrived at the border with practically nothing.
“In Mexico, they are always swindling you, but the worst part was crossing the river because I was afraid my little girl would drown,” said Eddy.
Such stories are all too familiar to Hipolito Acosta, a former U.S. immigration special agent.
“Your heart goes out to them, because you can only imagine what they have gone through,” he said.
Acosta went through some hardships himself, going undercover as an immigrant to gather evidence against smugglers.
“I have ridden in the back of a U-Haul [truck] with a group of Mexican illegal aliens that entered the country being smuggled by smugglers across the Rio Grande River and actually I almost drowned,” he recalled.
Acosta said the recent influx of Central American immigrants is part of a much longer story.
“Poverty and violence have been a condition in Central American countries for decades; it is nothing new,” said Acosta.
He believes more are coming now because of the current U.S. policy of processing asylum seekers and then releasing them while they await their court date.
But Alma Ciro said she took the risky journey to protect her two children - adding she would voluntarily return to Honduras if things change.
“We need two things, we need more work and less crime,” said Ciro.
Solving those problems will take a long time however, so the influx at the border is likely to continue.